COP 28 was worse than you can even imagine
COP 28 was worse than you can even imagine)

When it was announced that CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, would head this year’s UN climate conference, known as COP 28, it seemed like a joke. It is surely obvious that asking the CEO of one of the world’s largest oil and gas producers to preside over a climate conference is a bit like asking Tony Soprano to lead an international conference on how to phase out the mafia.

It would be comical, if only the fate of billions of people didn’t hang in the balance. He has acted about exactly as you’d expect. A bit over a week before COP 28, Al Jaber claimed that there is “no science” showing that limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees requires ending fossil fuel production and consumption. It is a shocking lie. You might wonder whether it has anything to do with ADNOC investing $150 billion into a series of massive new oil and gas projects, which it announced last November. 

It gets worse. In the days leading up to the conference, the Centre for Climate Reporting in the UK obtained documents that included talking points for Al Jaber and other United Arab Emirates officials, who planned to meet with at least 28 other countries and offer to help them develop and expand their fossil fuel industries. So, rather than the usual greenwashing exercise, the host nation had apparently intended to use the conference as a hangout for fossil fuel executives looking to make a buck (or billions of them). 

Further documents released by the Centre, and reported in the Guardian, showed that close UAE ally Saudi Arabia had detailed plans to “drive up the use of fossil-fuel powered cars, buses and planes in Africa”. Mohammed Adow, head of a climate NGO and thinktank Powershift Africa, likened the plan to the actions of a drug dealer, getting Africa hooked on oil and gas to guarantee future sales. 

Mustachio-twirling levels of evil—and COP28 hadn’t even begun. 

The conference has done nothing to inspire more confidence. One item on the agenda was the Global Stocktake—a balance sheet of how the world is progressing in relation to the targets set at the Paris COP conference in 2015. That’s easy: it’s been a disaster. 

According to a recent report by James Hansen, a former head of NASA climate research, the Paris goal of limiting global warming to less than two degrees above preindustrial levels is “dead” given the current trajectory of warming—and we could even reach two degrees by the late 2030s. 

The latest Emissions Gap Report, released this year by the UN Environment Programme, found that under the Paris pledges we are on track for 2.5-2.9 degrees of warming by the end of the century. This assumes that countries stick to their pledges, which many have not. The message from both reports, and countless others, is that if we are to have any chance of averting catastrophe, we need to wind down the fossil fuel industry immediately. 

You wouldn’t know it from following the conference, though. The message to the world from COP28 is that we can and should continue to burn fossil fuels. 

One key initiative of the conference is the Global Decarbonisation Accelerator (GDA). According to a media release, the GDA is a “comprehensive plan for system-wide change”, designed to “speed up the energy transition and drastically reduce global emissions”. It is nothing of the sort. 

An open letter signed by more than 320 climate and civil society organisations, including Greenpeace and Oxfam, points out that the GDA contains “only limited commitments to address [fossil fuel] companies’ operational emissions, while ignoring the vast majority of their total emissions”, which are created when oil and gas are burned, not simply extracted. This is classic greenwashing—like the Australian government not counting in its climate reporting the emissions from fossil fuel exports.

An example is the pledge by companies to detect and fix methane leaks in oil and gas production, which the US has announced it will legislate. This will do nothing to halt or even slow down the growth of the oil and gas industries. If anything, the change could make them more efficient, and therefore more profitable and more attractive for investors. 

Twenty-two countries pledged to triple their nuclear power capacity by 2050, supposedly to help with the transition away from fossil fuels. This is supposedly another “win” for the environment. But nuclear power is dirty, expensive and dangerous, and its development is intimately tied to the proliferation of the other great threat to human civilisation: nuclear weapons.

Australia’s Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen announced from the conference that he had signed a pledge to triple global renewable capacity by 2030. But, again, this avoids the key issue. World leaders are signing pledges and making noise about anything and everything that doesn’t involve immediate steps to end the fossil fuel industry—the one thing that needs to happen. 

Greta Thunberg said at a protest outside COP26 in Glasgow two years ago that the conference was nothing more than a “PR exercise”, where leaders would do nothing but “blah, blah blah”. Since then, it has somehow gotten worse. We can’t trust any of these world leaders to save us—we need to get organised and do it ourselves. 

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